Friday, 2 October 2009

Is there nobility in business ?

Are some sectors of business activity more "noble” than others ? Pure capitalism is completely agnostic in the softer emotions. But humans are not “pure”. They have emotions. So it is , but natural, that they rank some spheres of activity as more noble than others. Show me a human being who’ll say that being a real estate agent is better than being a teacher.

It is rare, but sometimes you come across something you read that perfectly matches with what you have been thinking at the back of your mind, but never expressed. For me, The genuine nobility of manufacturing by Luke Johnson was a light turning on moment. Here’s an excerpt from the article that perfectly captures a nagging doubt I’ve been having

“In almost any country, dealing in property, shares or companies will likely lead to riches far faster than running factories to produce the goods we all need. I would love an economist to explain to me the flaw in our system that leads to this far from ideal outcome.

Most intelligent entrepreneurs and executives desire to invest their work with meaning. They like the idea of improving the world while earning a living. And many of us who mostly shuffle paper secretly admire those in the Hard Industries, who manufacture things, in spite of all the obstacles”

Without manufacturing, there will be no economic activity. Most of the service industry is anyway targetted to service manufacturing. And yet society today has completely devalued manufacturing, to the point that its almost a dirty word.

I’ll stop. Luke Johnson has raised the issue far better than I ever can. I would love to hear what you think. Is it one of those fanciful, romantic, but impractical thoughts that tends to come with old age ? Or is it something you, young people of the world, relate to, too ?


Anonymous said...

I have always thought about this, but, only in regards to agriculture! The farmer who produces does not earn much, his produce is measured in quintals, while the service industry measures in kg. -yet the difference in price is not too big! The middle men eats up a huge portion!! In this process, won't manufacturer loses motivation?? When the manufacturer is looked down in a life-line industry like agriculture, I am not surprised about this in other manufacturing industries!!

DA said...

It is a very troubling especially since it defies all logic and sense of fairness. I often wonder what exactly our MBAs do in consulting or i-banks to justify their huge salaries and bonuses. This get further perpetrated when the best and brightest want to join these jobs rather than go work for companies that produce something real. In fact I know someone, a physics PhD, who used work with Bell Labs and then moved to Wall Street to earn probably 10 times more. And there are many many more like him. I dont blame them at some level but what a waste of talent.
But on the other hand, who is to decide which jobs are noble. While we may probably have consensus on the big ones - broker versus someone in manufacturing, is there a heirarchy in manufacturing? Should someone working for a company that makes soaps (just a random example!) make less than someone associated with making something else, say planes? This is where it becomes a slippery slope, I think.

Sandhya Sriram said...

When i used to work in the factory, i used to swell with pride when factory used to celebrate an extra ton of production or hit a higher percentile on a tech eff parameter. the joy of creating something tangible in whatever small form is immense

but today, in a service industry, i dont need to oversee warehouses and trucks or track down wastes in the production line, but then, i feel proud that i am help them find the hour to fill it with managing physical controls. i
provide decision support systems to control the physical operations. so I am not worse off.

The question you have posed is like whether a house-wife is greater or a working woman. both are not comparable - but both are unique and valuable in their own respects.

Ramesh said...

@athivas - Nice parallel with agriculture. Same argument ; is that a noble profession ?

@DA - Hey; thanks for coming back as DA. Brilliant comment that captures the dilemma perfectly. Where on the slippery slope do you stop. I'm struggling too with defining where is (or even should there be) the meaning in a career, beyond money and position.

@Sandhya - Nicely articulated different point of view that I respect too. I'll put the analgoy with the working women and housewife a little differently. If a husband values the working woman five times that of a housewife; is that a just thing to happen.

Anonymous said...

The person who gets his hands dirty never sees the money and it is unfair! The guy who lays the brick on brick to build a house in India is nowhere close to being paid (or respected) as much as the architect! Whereas in the western countries, the "manfacturers" are more or less at par with the people at similar levels in other industries.

I don't see all that much nobility in business. It is all about money, honey! And the social causes they support is mainly for the public image! (Though at least through these associations, the consumers attention is diverted in the direction of social causes) It is a complex issue here and it depends from whose perspective you are looking from to see the nobility in business... I'm just blabbering on, let me stop! :D

Deepa said...

Well! Once upon a time I used to think on those lines, as in whether certain industries are nobler than the others and if its indeed moral to run certain industries! But personally ITC as a manufacturing co. is as respectable in my eyes as any other.

Zooming out, and comparing on a broader level between Manufacturing & Services! Yes, physical labour and physical output is far more superior in terms of the sheer human effort and dedication that has to go in! Service industry on the other hand does get you the easy buck, makes you look suave, but I only wish this star value was more justifiable.

It probably stems from comparing the output of the effort rather than the effort itself. And out in the market, the consumer likes to pay for the output and not the effort! So there's your loop!

Anonymous said...

I definitely consider agriculture as one of the noble profession. They are taken for granted, without actually realising that it is infact the base of most industries, whatsoever! I always have it against the society that despite their hardwork, farmers are not treated well!!

Exkalibur666 said...

The article as well as the comments above make me think about the concept of 'dignity of labour" i believe that as long as we do something ethical and we do it with sincerity and dedication..that is all that it manufacturing, any service or writing software code or investment banking...i am a believer in Karma yoga
I once worked in a factory going through labour strike and had to work in the shope floor as part of the management strategy of combating the labour strike..i drove forklifts, cleaned machines and worked in the machine shop...and I truly enjoyed that experienced and it gave me a good understanding of what a typical factory worker goes through to earn his living...

Ramesh said...

@thoughtful train - Please don't stop. Obviosuly a topic on which you have strong views. Can udnerstand where you are coming from.

@Deepa - Very professional comment. Awarded A grade !!

@athivas - Agree. Agriculture sadly doesn't seem a very desirable profession.

@Exkalibur - Agree - whatever job we do, if we do it well, that's the height of professionalism. Still, I believe the relative weight society gives to professions in terms of monetary valuation is at least a tad warped.

A journey called Life said...

im reading this post for the 10th time in the last 2 days and i have also dwelled a lot on the comments here too.. but try as i might i cant put my thghts in the way all the commenters have done.. so im just going to nod and sigh at my rusty brains and walk away feeling good at the post and all the reactions..

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - Of all the professions in the world, by far, without doubt, with no competition, the noblest profession is that of a mom. Ok, its not a profession, but still ....

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

Ramesh, I have been pushing this frigging tank up the frigging hill - I mean I have been working on this venture - for 18 months now, and one of the biggest motivators is that if it succeeds, it will have a measurable impact on financial inclusion while making our investors a handsome return on equity. This is a huge kick. And when I dream about eventual success, it is about how people use our payment system to pay wages, send money home, receive micro-credit, etc and the thrill of seeing our brandname used by someone who has had a positive experience. I agree with you that of late, with the meltdown, a lot of nobility has disappeared. Remember, though, that the early titans of industry were robber barons too. I dont know. I can only speak for myself.

Ramesh said...

@Dada - Absolutely so. For eg microcredit, I would argue is very "noble", but arms manufacture certainly is not. This is an issue with no easy answers at all.

Your "frigging tank" will be a massive success. For sure, it will be a contribution to make people's lives better - the very best face of capitalism.

Srivats said...

//Show me a human being who’ll say that being a real estate agent is better than being a teacher.

I think you answer for yourself! :)

Yes and I second Athivas opinion about agriculture, if there is no products being cultivated/produced or manufactured there wouldnt be any service needed :)

//Is it one of those fanciful, romantic, but impractical thoughts that tends to come with old age ? Or is it something you, young people of the world, relate to, too ?

:) with your writings I thought u were so young until we "discussed" about you ;) in bloggers meet with AJCL and savitha, I was so dumpstuck to learn about u and was feeling so stupid to have writtern boyish commetns hehe

Ramesh said...

@Sri - OMG - you guys "discussed" ? I am totally gobsmacked. And what's this rubbish about "boyish comments'. Sure you may look boyish :), but you comment with the wisdom of a stalwart. Now I have to get into your next bloggers meet !!

Srivats said...

haha we discussed :) i wish u were there though. Boyish looks with wisdom of stalwart , wwah!

Srivats said...

u are sure to get pampered when u come here :)

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